“We lost a tough road game,” Ball State Women’s Basketball head coach Brady Sallee said following the Cardinals’ 84-77 loss to Northern Illinois.
Despite Ball State’s 10-game winning streak being snapped, despite the Cardinals losing their first game since Jan. 11, Sallee remained true to his attitude throughout the season, regardless of win or loss.
On to the next.
“As you can expect, [the players] were disappointed. Disappointed in the loss but I think also probably disappointed in how we played,” Sallee said. “[However], I don't know that this game changes anything, because we still have to go win games to do what we want to do. There's still a ton of basketball left, so we weren't necessarily playing for a championship today.”
While Ball State (22-5, 12-2 MAC) wasn’t playing for a championship, the Cardinals were playing to extend their winning streak to 11 games and continue to build momentum with a little more than two weeks before the MAC Championship Tournament.
Heading into this contest, Northern Illinois (14-11, 6-8 MAC) was riding high after defeating Bowling Green (23-3, 10-2 MAC). In a matter of four days, the Huskies snapped the Falcons’ 11-game win streak and the Cardinals’ 10-game win streak.
The Huskies rode the momentum from their Feb. 15 win into this contest, as they led Ball State by 14 going into halftime. Senior guard Chelby Koker, who was a preseason All-MAC Second Team member, scored 20 points in the first half.
Sallee said the Cardinals “sleep walked” their way through the first half. He said he didn’t feel like the 14-point deficit was insurmountable, but said first halves like that “take something out of you.”
If something was taken out of the Cardinals in the first half, it didn’t show, as a 15-0 run in the back half of the third quarter put Ball State in the lead with 1:17 left before the fourth. This was their first lead since 7:13 in the first quarter.
Despite the fiery comeback, Sallee said his halftime speech to the Cardinals was business as usual.
“We talked about going out and flipping the script, it wasn't anything crazy,” Sallee said. “We've been in maybe not quite that kind of a hole, but we've been in some deficits before halftime, and we've come out and quickly gotten back into it. So I knew we had it in us, we just had to dig down and find it.”
In the fourth quarter, it was all about big plays and the foul game. Ball State’s bigs found themselves in trouble, as sophomore Marie Kiefer had four fouls early in the final quarter, meaning senior Annie Rauch got significant playing time. Rauch had 10 points, but fouled out with two minutes left, putting Kiefer back in the game.
For the Huskies, Koker missed significant time in the fourth due to foul trouble before fouling out with 1:50 left. She finished with a game-high 25 points, her second highest total of the season.
The Cardinals shot 19-26 (73 percent) and the Huskies shot 18-24 (75 percent) from the free-throw line, but strong 3-point shooting and rebounding was what secured the Huskies victory. Ball State shot 6-20 (30 percent) from beyond the arc while Northern Illinois shot 10-19 (53 percent), and the Huskies collected 33 rebounds compared to the Cardinals’ 28.
The game’s leading rebounder was senior forward A’Jah Davis, who is fourth in the country in said category. The former All-MAC First Team member finished with her 18th double-double of the season as she scored 19 points and grabbed 15 rebounds.
Redshirt senior Anna Clephane once again led Ball State in scoring with 19 points, nine of which came from the charity stripe. However, three other Cardinals joined her in double-digit scoring, including sophomore Ally Becki’s 14-point, five rebound and eight assist performance.
In the end, these efforts weren’t enough. With four regular season games left, two of which coming against Toledo and Bowling Green, Sallee said he won’t focus on anything further down the road than the Cardinals’ next opponent.
“We have a chance right now to learn some tough but valuable lessons with weeks to go,” Sallee said. “Hopefully we can turn that into a blessing to figure out a way to make sure that that doesn't happen anymore. That'll be the goal moving forward. All year [we’ve] been good at flipping the page and moving on to the next one.”
Ball State returns to action Feb. 22 against Western Michigan (10-15, 5-8 MAC) at 6:30 p.m. in Muncie, Indiana, looking to build momentum heading into a contest that could have No. 1 in the MAC at stake days later against Toledo Feb. 25 at 1 p.m. at Worthen Arena.
Contact Kyle Smedley with comments via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @KyleSmedley_.